“Come on baby, light my fire…”

Light? We associate flames with light, though often with fire the first sign is the scent when something is ignescent. Ignescent means igniting, bursting into flame (just as adolescent is bursting into adulthood and somnolescent is bursting – or at least sliding – into sleep). Whether engine or incense or cigarette, the ignition produces smoke, which conveys its fragrance (pleasing or pestiferous) before the eyes see the fire. Indeed, the smoke may well obscure the light.

We like, and light, flames for many different purposes. In earlier times the heat was paramount; Shakespeare’s Polonius in Hamlet spoke disparagingly of fires that give “more light than heat.” In our times, when central heating lets us take temperature for granted, we more often think of fire for the look of it – a pretty little candle or crackling fire – and we think poorly of a discussion that generates “more heat than light” because we think of heat as anger and light as understanding.

We still get much energy from fire, though – car engines, power plants, and that big burning ball above that we sometimes see during the day. And occasionally we still need a fire for heat, as Aina and I were reminded last night when visiting friends whose heating system was on the blink and who thus lit a fire. It did smell nice, and it gave a lovely light, but we didn’t need the light so much as the heat; the electricity was working fine.

Be it for lighting or heating or scenting, we are now starting an ignescent season. The days are shortest and the temperatures are dropping, and we’re lighting candles and other small fires for holiday observances and festivities. We want to spark a little spirit, though we don’t want to set the world – or anyone’s hair or house – on fire. Spend a cent to light a penny candle and sing, but don’t singe.

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